Humans are born with the ability to see objects off to the side even when their eyes are focused forward. However, differences exist in how adults and children perceive and use their peripheral vision. Parents need to understand how peripheral vision works and how to help their children make the most of it for safety and learning.
Peripheral Vision Definition
A simple definition of peripheral vision comes from the MedTerms Medical Dictionary, "Peripheral vision is the ability to see objects and movement outside the direct line of vision." Commonly called "seeing something out of the corner of your eye," peripheral vision is a function of the visual receptor cells called rods. These cells are densest around the outer edges of the retina. While rod cells cannot detect color, they are sensitive to movement.
Importance of Peripheral Vision
Peripheral vision helps keep people safe. While the human version is not as keen as animal vision, the ability to detect side movement is crucial in recognizing danger. For children, learning to use their peripheral vision can prevent an accident when bicycle riding or crossing the street. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Association, "More than one-fifth of all bicyclist deaths occur among school age youth ages 5 to 15." The NHTSA cites children's failure to naturally use peripheral vision as a factor in this statistic. Training children to be aware of their peripheral vision can prevent an accident.
Children Peripheral Vision vs. Adult Peripheral Vision
Peripheral vision develops along with a human's central vision. Generally, if a baby is not tracking motion across their full range of vision by 3 months of age, parents should consult their pediatrician. Scientists suspect that children have less peripheral vision than adults. However, a thorough case study of the various claims proved inconclusive. As with the National Highway Transportation Safety Association studies, it is not that children have less peripheral vision, it is that they don't know how to use it to their advantage. One exception has been seen in autistic children who often use their peripheral vision instead of their central vision. This manifests as lack of direct eye contact and looking at objects with a tilted head. If parents notice this behavior, they should consult their pediatrician.
Peripheral Vision Activities
Parents can help develop their child's awareness of their peripheral vision through enjoyable activities. The simplest is to have your child focus on a picture on the wall. Stand behind her and hold your arms out straight. Slowly move your hands forward, wiggling your fingers, until your child sees them. Add fun with hand puppets and silly code words. As you repeat the exercise, you should find your child can register the movement in a wider arc as they become more aware of their peripheral vision.